Samaritans hope to preserve community

MOUNT GERIZIM, West Bank - The Samaritans, a rapidly dwindling sect dating to biblical times, have opened their West Bank community to brides imported from eastern Europe in a desperate quest to preserve their ancient culture.
  
Five young women from Russia and Ukraine have moved to Mount Gerizim in recent years to marry local men, breathing new life into the community that has been plagued by genetic diseases caused by generations of intermarriage.
  
The Samaritans believe themselves to be the remnants of Israelites exiled by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. They practice a religion closely linked to Judaism and venerate a version of the Old Testament, but they are not Jews.
  
In the fourth and fifth centuries, the Samaritan population is thought to have topped 1.5 million, but today there are only 750 Samaritans -- split between communities in the Israeli city of Holon and on Mount Gerizim, the group's holiest place and site of its yearly Passover sacrifice.
 

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